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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 July 2018

Bitcoin millionaire, 19, wants to build 'world’s best university' in Dubai

Erik Finman, who began buying Bitcoin at the age of 12 and is now worth millions, is turning his sights on Dubai

Teen mogul Erik Finman from Idaho, US, first invested in bitcoin in May 2011 at the age of 12. Courtesy: Erik Finman
Teen mogul Erik Finman from Idaho, US, first invested in bitcoin in May 2011 at the age of 12. Courtesy: Erik Finman

A teenage bitcoin investor who turned $1,000 into more than five million dollars, and who says college isn’t worth it, is now turning his sights on Dubai.

Erik Finman may only be 19 years old, but he is worth millions thanks to his early and shrewd investments in Bitcoin.

The teen mogul from Idaho, US, first invested in the cryptocurrency in May 2011 at the age of 12, after his grandma gifted him $1,000.

Back then, one Bitcoin fetched just $12. But Erik timed his purchase right, with the value of the digital currency going stratospheric since then. He owns 401 Bitcoins today, which at the current value of $14,000 a coin gives him a net worth of $5.6 million.

Erik now has ambitious plans to invest part of that wealth into creating a new university in Dubai which, he says, will be “two times better than Stanford” – where both his parents did their PhDs.

“I want to start the school of all schools in Dubai,” he told The National. “It will be the best on the planet, world-renowned – because I know Dubai likes the best.”

Erik has visited Dubai regularly, and his family already run online teaching training in the Emirates, under the brand name ‘STEM Revolution’. It uses the technology developed through an online education start-up called Botangle that Erik launched in 2014, using the $100,000 he made through selling his first bitcoin investments.

But Erik has plans to build an actual physical campus in Dubai which, he says, will be “Stanford 2.0 but even better – a very big and beautiful campus, with a modern design”.

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His whole family is involved in the project, which they hope to launch in the next three years “or even sooner”.

“My brothers went to MIT and Johns Hopkins, my parents met doing their PhDs at Stanford, and I have the entrepreneurial side with my experience running an education company. So it’s really been a family project – we want to bring that combined Stanford, MIT, and start-up magic to Dubai.”

While he also considered Singapore and San Francisco for the new university, Erik is keenest on Dubai because he believes it has “overtaken New York to become the most international city in the world”.

“Dubai has really become the centre of the world,” he said. “It already has the tallest building, it already has the biggest malls – I think it deserves to have the best education system in the world too, and I know that fits a lot of [the UAE’s] goals.” Satellite campuses could subsequently be set up in other cities, “but I really want to put the flagship one in Dubai”.

Erik’s passion for education is partly rooted in the fact that he was himself failed by the system.

“I had a miserable school experience, I didn’t enjoy it at all… One of my teachers even told me to drop out and go work for McDonalds as I’d never amount to anything more in life,” he said. “I guess I did the drop out thing.”

Erik made a bet with his parents that if he was a millionaire by the time he was 18, they wouldn’t force him to go to college.

His bitcoin investments and his forays into various start-ups helped ensure that he achieved that goal.

But even though he personally thinks college is a waste of time, he is nevertheless committed to developing an education system to help frustrated students like himself – and he thinks the UAE is the perfect place to base his project.

Aside from planning his education empire, and investing his bitcoin investments, Erik spends his time working with NASA to launch a Taylor Swift CD into space. The project with NASA is also fuelled by his desire to motivate and inspire students. “We need to get more people talking about space,” he said.

Is Erik worried about the recent volatility in Bitcoin’s price? The simple answer is: “absolutely not”.

“For my own sanity, I don’t check the [price] that often anymore,” he said. “It changes all the time.

“But I think Bitcoin definitely has more to go, and I think cryptocurrency as a whole has a lot more to go. It’s the next big thing.

“The only way you can take down by Bitcoin is not through its own doing, but if you make some better alternative to it.

“Whatever the winning cryptocurrency is – and right now that’s Bitcoin – will get to millions of dollars of coin.”